Presencing in a small strategic planning workshop

I ran a workshop last week for the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association of British Columbia. The taske was to to spend a day and a half reviewing the high level vision and direction of the organization and to come up with some streams forward to present to the organization’s membership at the AGM. In thinking about the design of the gathering, I chose to consciously use Theory U to help structure a series of exercises. I proposed a five phase process for the day:

IAHLA Presencing process design
  • Sensing needs and purposes and reviewing the world outside
  • Appreciative Evaluation of the organization’s path over the past five years
  • Presencing the vision for the near future
  • Crystallizing the intention of the emerging visions
  • Harvesting forward to present to the AGM

For the first three phases I created a series of reflective exercises, based in part by some of the exercises Otto Scharmer has been using in his work. The list of questions went as follows:


  • What are the voices tapping us on the shoulder? What are the forces competing for our attention?
  • What are our sources of frustration in the world?
  • What are our sources of joy?
  • Think of the diversity of IAHLA membership. What are they facing that is coming through you in this moment?

Each person journalled individually on these questions and then we went around the circle of six and harvested what was in the field. At the end of the exercise we had a harvest that represented an environmental scan that was presenced through the minds and hearts of each Board member.

Appreciative evaluation

  • Thinking of IAHLA’s journey as a canoe trip on a river, five years ago, when IAHLA began, what caused the founders to put the canoe in the river?
  • What landmarks have we passed on our journey over the past five years?
  • Who has been there with us, in the boat or on the shore?
  • If we imagine the journey extending through where we are now, what does our past and present say about where we are going?
  • If you received news this afternoon that IAHLA’s funding were to disappear what would your initial reaction be? What would you fear for first?

In the same fashion I led the group through these questions, with each person journalling individually. The result was a harvest, drawn on the frame of a canoe journey that recorded the founder’s vision as we have inherited it, the work that we have done, a sense of where we are going, a list of people and organizations that have been instrumental in getting us there and, most interestingly from the last question, a list of what is essential. Many of the board members remarked that this exercise was powerful in that it connected the current board to the legacy of the founders and those that came before, who started the entire movement of offering this type of learning centre in Aboriginal communities. This exercise resulted in a powerful sense of stewardship for the movement.

Presencing vision

For this exercise we used a framework document that describes the work of IAHLA and captures the overall intention and purpose of the organization. Participants were invited to spend nearly an hour on a learning journey with this document, using the following questions as a guide:

  • Inspired by the framework, what are three shifts in the world you can see IAHLA spearheading?
  • For each of these shifts, imagine being in that changed future and note down how we might have arrived there.
  • Find and circle parts of the framework that will have contributed to that shift.

The harvest from this was a fantastic conversation in which we identified eight areas of shift and some of the major strategic landmarks that would appear on those paths. In the subsequent conversation as we crystallized the intent of these directions we talked extensively about some of the priority areas, the work that might have the most impact, and that which the organization’s members might be most excited in.

We will capture these results in a large graphic harvest for the AGM, at which time we will be inviting the membership in a cafe to reflect on these eight shifts and contribute another level of collective strategic thinking to the work.

One comment.

  1. gorgeous work chris. (i feel like i’ve written that before)